Jonas Valančiūnas is definitely the most awaited rookie of this season, having been drafted by the Toronto Raptors 5th in the 2011 NBA Draft.
He was forced to remain in Lithuania with BC Lietuvos rytas because of his $2.5 million buyout.
Again, the Raptors go overseas with a top draft pick, which has seemingly been hit or miss for them. Andrea Bargnani has fared well, but certainly not worthy of a first-round first pick in the 2006 draft.
Valančiūnas has tremendous upside, as do most 7-foot prospects. He most recently led his Lithuania squad to an Under-19 World Championship. He made great strides with BC Lietuvos rytas, averaging just under a double-double of 10.8 points and 7.6 rebounds.
At 20 years old, he’s still a bit undersized and certainly would benefit from NBA training.
Let’s not mistake this pick based on his little experience with a professional club in Lithuania and his national U-19 team.
Valančiūnas is still a project, and will be for at least a few years for the Raptors. But his size and on-court intelligence gives him a higher ranking than his other piers in the NBA Atlantic Division.
With defense becoming a priority in Toronto, the majority of the issue being pressed by head coach Dwane Casey, Valančiūnas’ frame will make it tough for guards to drive on both him and Andrea Bargnani—both towering at 7 feet.
This article was first published on Atlantic Twine.